During the 1700’s and 1800’s the nations began to follow a form of government known as absolutism. Absolutism is a form of government in which the sovereign power or authority came from one monarch who was said to rule by divine right. Divine right is the belief that the monarch was given the power to rule by god. This means that only god was above the ruler. This belief would cause the citizens to follow the monarch’s wishes. During this period of time, absolute monarchies were set up in France, Spain, Prussia, Austria, Russia, and England.
The monarchs of these nations had there own methods for ruling their Nation, but they shared many ideologies and practices that are common in an absolutist Government. One common trait of an absolutist government is a single dominate monarch that rules the entire Nation. The absolute monarch needed to have complete control; however, the upper class tended to want to share some of the power. A strong monarch would then have to find a way to increase his power and weaken the nobles. In France Cardinal Richelieu’s power was contested by the Huguenot party.
He quickly eliminated their political and military power while he let them keep their religious authority. He also sent out spies to determine if any nobles were trying to conspire against him. He also sent out officials to other provinces to enforce his laws. Lewis IV of France followed up on Richelieu’s practices by taking high offices away from nobles that he believed were gaining too much power. Fredrick William the great of Prussia decided that the best way to keep control was to give the aristocrats positions as officials in his bureaucracy.
This gave them enough power that they would be satisfied, but not enough to overthrow him. Since Austria consisted of several different States, Leopold I kept control of Austria by allowing the local and regional governments set laws in their areas, and that they would yield to his authority in any matters that dealt with the nation as a whole. In Russia Ivan the Terrible maintained his control by destroying all power that the Russian nobles had. When Peter the Great came into power he created multiple smaller councils that each had authority on one area of the government.
This allowed the Government to be ran more efficiently, but did not cause him to lose control. In England a group of nobles ran an agency called parliament. King Charles I did not want parliament to gain power, so he refused to call on them to make decisions on political matters. The parliament gained power after Charles death but Cromwell destroyed the parliament, so they could not interfere. Another similarity between the absolute governments was the creation of a large military that was used for conquest. Since the monarchs wanted power, they often gained it through conquests of other nations.
In France Louis XIV created an army of 400,000 men that he used to invade the Spanish Netherlands, Alsace, and Lorraine. In Prussia Fredrick created an army of 40,000 men. Unlike Louis in France, Fredrick used his army mainly to protect Prussia itself. Austria like Prussia used its army mainly for protection however, their constant wars with the ottomans allowed Leopold to claim some land from the Ottomans. Russia wanted to compete with the European powers, so they created a professional army of 210,000 men, and a large navy. Russia used this army to conquer some of Sweden’s land in the Baltic area.
This gave Russia a passage to the rest of the European World. England had a large army and navy, however this army was often used, by Cromwell and other English Monarchs, to settle rebellions and fight civil wars that threatened the monarchs power. Since the absolute monarch has complete control it is only natural that they control trade too. This control of trade causes the absolute monarchies to have mercantilist economies. Louis XIV of France and his financial advisor Jean-Baptiste Colbert regulated trade in two ways. First, they expanded the quantity of French goods, and they set higher standards for acceptable quality of these goods.
These regulations made French products more appealing as exports to other nations. Next they placed tariffs on imported goods to reduce the competitiveness of foreign goods in France. King Fredrick in Prussia also followed similar strategies. He increased Prussia’s economy by placing tariffs on imported goods, and he helped Prussian businesses to create monopolies so they could export goods at higher prices. They also built roads to increase trade internally. Peter the Great of Russia used the same mercantilistic strategies as the other monarchs, but he also exploited natural resources like iron to try to expand Russia’s trade.
The Absolutist Governments in Europe also shared many weaknesses. One weakness was succession of the Throne. Many time in absolutist governments, kings will appear that are unfit to rule. This could be caused by two main reasons. The first is that the monarch is too young. In France both Louis XIII and Louis XIV were too young to rule when their predecessor died. In both cases a cardinal filled in as the leader, Cardinal Richelieu and Cardinal Mazarin. While Richelieu had some good policies, both Cardinals were not strong leaders, so and France declined until Louis XIV was old enough to rule on his own.
The other reason is that the Monarch is not strong enough or is too cruel to his subjects. Phillip IV of Spain ruled when Spain was already in decline from economic inflation and war. He was not a strong leader, and Spain declined more rapidly because of that. Russia’s first Tsar, Ivan IV the Terrible, maintained power through military control of Russia. His subjects did not like his methods so they overthrew him and Russia entered a state of anarchy. England also had a series of ineffective Rulers. England was constantly in civil war, so the monarch in England changed with every war.
This prevented anyone from creating peace and gaining control for a long duration. Although each nation had different methods for running their absolutist governments, they all dealt with similar problems, weaknesses and methods of rule. Each nation was able to create an absolute monarchy and maintain that style of government for over two hundred years. This type of government is not practiced much in today’s world, but the political organization gained through this stage in European history paved the way for our democratic governments today.